The Boston Celtics suffered a crushing defeat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. The Celtics have played hundreds of memorable playoff games in their storied history, but for the foreseeable future, just saying “Game 3” is going to sting without any needed context. The Miami Heat, on the other hand, have a pretty good catalog of playoff moments and yet their 128-102 victory to take a 3-0 Eastern Conference finals lead might get its own special heading, too. Unexpected success is often the sweetest and the Heat and their fans were floating on that emotion.
A franchise in crisis
The Celtics, a hugely talented, experienced and expensive team, are on their way out of the postseason with a dud. When that happens in pro sports, there is typically a blame game that demands action. There’s going to be a pull for firings, trades and makeovers in Boston. It’s going to be like a dam straining against a flood. In a matter of days and three losses, this has transitioned from a team favored by the computers and the sportsbooks to win the title to a franchise in crisis.
Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck spent much of the third quarter, as his team was getting outscored 32-17, looking at his phone in his courtside seat trying to focus on anything else. Team president Brad Stevens stood outside the Celtics’ locker room after the game stunned at what he’d just seen, making sure to give credit to the Heat for their vanquishing.
A rookie coach under fire
Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla, in his first playoffs as a head coach, is in the midst of learning many lessons, and this was yet another one. There’s an art to being a shield — and this wasn’t it. There is a wave of anger from New England and a rising expectation elsewhere Mazzulla will pay the price for this 0-3 hole the Celtics find themselves in. Stevens is a huge believer in Mazzulla and made the choice not only to promote him but also to make him the permanent coach midway through the season.
Before Game 3, if you were around the Celtics, you’d know there was no chance Mazzulla would not be back next season. After Game 3, nothing feels certain.
Soul-searching for the Celtics
There is a question about whether the Celtics can give Jaylen Brown an extension worth more than $280 million this offseason. His performance has been dreadful in this series; he was 0-of-7 from 3-point range Sunday and is 2-for-20 from 3 in the three losses against Miami. Before Game 3, it seemed like locking down Brown, 26, was automatic; getting a player at his age in his position under control for five years is good business. After Game 3, it is human nature to wonder if the Tatum-Brown pairing is great or just very good. And considering they both might each cost more than $50 million in salary per season soon, is just very good actually good enough?
This soul-searching could go on. It’s easy to question just what happened to the Celtics’ strong defense — they are a shell of the team that made the Finals last season — but then there’s the continued lineup changes and the effort level and the inexplicable delay to double-team Heat star Jimmy Butler. And that’s the penalty for going down the way the Celtics are in this stunning collapse. It will cost more than just a chance at a title. This is the kind of loss that can rob a team of its confidence and its direction.
The Boston Celtics suffered a devastating loss in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. The defeat has raised questions about the future of the Celtics and their players, as well as their coaching staff. The Heat, on the other hand, are riding high on their unexpected success and are one win away from securing their place in the NBA Finals. The Celtics will need to regroup quickly if they hope to avoid being swept by the Heat and to salvage their season.
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